Friday, 7 October 2011

Choose Your Side: Jedi Knight vs. Bounty Hunter

Friday again, so another update from BioWare on The Old Republic. This week they have a new video for us, the first in a new series, where two classes face off against each other. Not so much in the combat sense, but more in the sense that developers point out what they feel makes the class good, leaving it for the viewer to decide which class is better for them. Here's the official news:

From the moment that we announced the eight classes in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ fans have been pitting them against each other, arguing who would have the advantage in a one-on-one fight. The hallways of BioWare echo this debate, with the writers, combat designers and other developers all chiming in on which class they feel reigns supreme.

In our new video series “Choose Your Side,” members of the Star Wars: The Old Republic team plead their cases, highlighting only a few of the many skills and abilities that set their class apart from the rest. In the first video of the four-part series, two of the most iconic classes in the Star Wars™ universe stand toe-to-toe as the famed Jedi Knight squares off against the feared Bounty Hunter.

My vote? Jedi Knight, but then I'm a goody-two-shoes.

That wasn't the only update though. BioWare also has part two of William Wallace's Companion blog post. And earlier this week BioWare announced that this weekend they're having another Beta Testing Weekend. That and the developer quotes after the break.

Two weeks ago BioWare gave us the first part of a blog post written by Senior Game Designer William Wallace about Companions. And today BioWare gave us part two, looking at Companion AI and their role in groups. Here's an excerpt from the latter:

Group Role

Finding certain roles for group content can sometimes be a difficult task in massively multiplayer games.

Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ features a large amount of group content, including Heroic Quests (challenging quests requiring 2 or 4 players to complete) and Flashpoints (highly engaging instanced story content for groups of 4 players). One benefit we’re seeing from our new, fully featured companions is additional flexibility about how players approach group content. A full group in The Old Republic always has four players. Any player leaving the group can be substituted by a companion of the group’s choice, with the party leader in control of which player gets to use their companion.

If a player leaves the group or its proximity, to travel to a vendor for instance, he is able to summon his companion for the journey. Upon reentering proximity of the group, the companion is automatically dismissed. The remaining group can temporarily substitute the missing player with one of their companions if desired.

I must say that I did not know that you can take out Companions when you get far enough away from your group. I thought that the ability to take out Companions was based on just being in a group. That's quite neat actually.

The explanation of the AI system sounds quite nice as well. Reminds me a lot of Guild Wars' heroes. And I don't think that's a bad system to model after. Sounds good to me. Go to the blog post to read it in its entirety.

Earlier this week BioWare also announced that they're having another Beta Testing Weekend this weekend:

Beta Testing Weekends for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ began earlier this month and during our first weekend, we invited more players into testing than we’ve ever invited before in a single weekend! Now we’re getting ready for another Beta Testing Weekend, starting on October 7th and finishing on October 10th. With increased invite numbers from the first weekend, even more of you will get to play The Old Republic.

If you don’t get invited to this weekend’s test, don’t worry. More Beta Testing Weekends will occur before the launch of The Old Republic. To have an opportunity to get into future Beta Testing Weekends, be sure to sign up for future testing on and opt-in for game testing.

Invites to the Beta Testing Weekend are being sent this week. If you are selected, an email invite will be sent to the email address associated with your Star Wars: The Old Republic account. Please add the email address to your ‘safe senders’ list in your email client to ensure delivery. If you are uncertain whether you have been invited, login to the official Star Wars: The Old Republic website’s tester page. If you have been invited, the client will be available to download from that page. If you have other questions, please ask them in the official Forums.

Also, be sure to keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages for the latest updates on our upcoming Beta Testing Weekends!

If you got an invitation, good luck, do your best helping to test and enjoy yourself. And if you didn't then don't fret, everyone will get a chance to play sooner or later and they're definitely going to have more Beta Testing Weekends.

Before I move on to the developer quotes first another thing. About a week ago Massively posted an article with impressions they got playing a few MMOs at Eurogamer Expo, and their list includes The Old Republic (the other two are Guild Wars 2 and End of Nations). Though their impressions of TOR weren't that positive. Here's an excerpt:

More of the same

While some players did get a chance to join an arranged PvP warzone match, most were given access only to the tutorial area. The fully voiced storyline at the start was a nice touch that brought some initial immersion, but I felt as though my responses to the chat didn't really make a difference. Surely I was going to be given the same quest to proceed with the tutorial regardless of dialogue choices. The occasional voiced chat with quest NPCs was great, but the feeling of being immersed in a story within the Star Wars universe always seemed to fade once the conversation ended and I went off to kill 10 space-rats.

I found myself invariably falling back into the same old MMO pattern of checking quest objectives and killing lists of monsters, which provided a comfortable familiarity at the cost of immersive gameplay. The difference in immersion between the story portions and the traditional MMO gameplay was so large that the game felt like a Star Wars-themed World of Warcraft punctuated all too rarely rarely with BioWare's typically high-quality storyline. It's possible that the tutorial area doesn't really do justice to the story and fully voiced dialogue at the core of SWTOR. If that's the case, though, then BioWare missed a massive opportunity at Eurogamer Expo to showcase the parts of the game that would impress people most.

It should be noted here that, one, they only got fifteen minutes to play (which seriously isn't enough to get any sense of story or immersion) and secondly this was purely their impressions from Eurogamer Expo. Keeping that in mind it's probably validated. I suspect that they might've enjoyed themselves more if they'd had the chance to try Huttball (which stands up much better to 15 minutes playtime).

Speaking of which, that reminds me that I still haven't written my Eurogamer Expo impressions. Apologies for that; I've been too busy getting my website back up (which is at least running again even if there's still a lot of work left to do).

For now, you'll have to settle with just the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Stephen Reid on strange e-mails.
  • [link] to Courtney Woods on galaxy map planet videos.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Consular throw ability.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on personal information.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Timeline videos.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on RP-PvP servers.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on strange e-mails, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on strange e-mails, part 3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Testing invites.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on unavailable names.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Huttball.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Origin.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 4.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 5.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 6.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 7.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 8.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 9.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 10.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 11.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 12.
  • [link] to Alexander Freed on galaxy map.
  • [link] to Drew Karpyshyn on Revan novel.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 13. (testing weekend #2)
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 14.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 15. (re-invites)
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 16. (all invites sent)
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 17.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on invites thread.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on playing on other continent's servers.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on EU Testing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on global cooldown.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Class Design Philosophy.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites thread, part 18. (more invites sent)
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on Testing FAQ.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on invites for non-supported countries.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on random selection.
  • [link] to David Bass on guild testing.

I've got a fair number of quotes this week. As you can see above not only were there a lot of developer posts (even if most were by Mr Reid on the thread about testing invites), but a fair number of them I found interesting to copy here.

The first post is by Stephen Reid and concerns RP-PvP servers:

Hello all. As I said before, it wasn't such a trivial decision, which is why it took a while to make. However, we have good news: RP-PvP servers are going to be a part of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Please note, the 'RP' part of the RP-PvP designation will be a suggested style of play, not a mandatory one. What that means is, if you feel someone isn't roleplaying, reporting them to Customer Service will not ensure action on their account. We will also not be enforcing naming policies or similar.

For a game with a projected player base as high as The Old Republic, it's simply not practical for CS to be watching over this. If you want to fully immerse yourself in roleplaying, we suggest you find a likeminded group or guild to do that with.

You probably have questions - throw them out and we'll try to answer.

I consider myself a roleplayer and I think that's very good news. I also have no issue with the way that they approach roleplaying rules (Turbine has the same approach for their US LotRO "Roleplay Encouraged" server). I don't believe that 'enforcing rules' really works to begin with, not the least of which because nobody can really agree on what is and isn't right in roleplaying. And I never really have an issue with names either; I treat them as identifiers (letting me tell people apart) and not as character names anyway. For immersion I just tend to turn the floating names off so I can't get offended by bad names regardless.

No, the way to encourage roleplaying is by giving roleplayers a lot of tools to help them tell their stories with each other and by making it easy for roleplayers to find each other. I'm not convinced that BioWare is doing much towards the first, but having RP servers is definitely helpful for the second.

Of course, since I don't like PvP I am assuming here that they'll also have RP-PvE servers.

The second quote is a short one by Georg Zoeller on restricted names:

There's an extensive list of names that are not available to guilds and players. Revan is one such name.

This makes me wonder how good their name filter really is. I suspect that we'll just see a lot of variations like "Re'van", "Raevan", "Xxrevanxx", etc. Then again if people want to be so unoriginal as to use names of existing characters then I've no issue with that. At the very least it allows me to tell the uncreative sods from the creative ones.

The next quote by Stephen Reid on digital Origin purchases he's said before, just never as clearly as this:

While you will complete your digital purchase of Star Wars: The Old Republic via Origin, you will download, install and patch the game digitally via our own launcher.

Considering some of the controversy around Origin's TOS and the fact that while I support competition I don't support the digital sales landscape fracturing between numerous services (i.e. I'm very unhappy about EA games being exclusive to Origin and others not being offered on Steam) I'm very glad about this. That should mean that I can completely avoid using the Origin client and I've every intention of doing just that.

Alexander Freed made a post about the Galaxy Map posted last Friday:

Hi, Ashes.

The planet locations on the galaxy map were taken directly from Star Wars: The Essential Atlas (and were, of course, closely vetted by the folks at LucasArts). We may have established coordinates for a handful of new systems (I'd need to check my records), but only a very few--the Atlas is extremely thorough.

As for the distance between Korriban and Dromund Kaas--keep in mind a few things:

First, there are HUGE distances even between neighboring star systems; while it's one thing to have a clearly mapped route and a powerful hyperdrive, creeping through uncharted territory at relatively slow speeds without "flying right through a star or bouncing too close to a supernova" is another thing entirely.

Second, the galactic map doesn't show a Z-axis--space is three-dimensional and just because two systems are (relatively) close on the X and Y grid, there can still be a vast separation "up" or "down."

In other words, if you're desperately wandering into territory off your charted portion of the galactic plane... you can spend quite a while before you find a new home.

Hope this addresses your concerns.

Not really surprising that they've made effort to stay true to Star Wars canon even in the position of their planets, though I'm sure that there are numerous inconsistencies in the various Star Wars sources over exactly where what planet is supposed to be.

It seems that about two weeks ago someone leaked story details on the next Star Wars TOR novel: Revan (note, that link contains supposed massive story spoilers for the novel). The poster in question, and most people who read the post, ended up quite unhappy and voiced this vocally on the forums (as people are wont to do). BioWare writer and author of the book in question made a post with his response:

Wow. A lot of people jumping to (somewhat misinformed) conclusions without actually reading the book. I guess I shouldn't be shocked - it happened with the first and third Bane novels, too. Must be human nature.

I'm not going to post a long, elaborate defense of what I did and why - too many spoilers. But I will say I don't feel I trampled on the KOTOR2 continuity in any way. I put in a lot of time and effort to make sure I was respectful and accurate to the source material. The Exile is a very complex and nuanced character, and there are multiple theories offered in the game to explain what she is and what she does... and some of these theories actually contradict each other. I believe this was intentional, as the KOTOR2 writing team wanted to preserve a sense of mystery about her. (The ongoing debate in this thread about the Exile clearly illustrates they succeeded.)

I was very careful not to put anything in my novel that would directly contradict any of the offered theories, partly to preserve KOTOR2's original intent, and partly because those elements were central to the KOTOR2 story, but not to the story of the Revan novel. I also believe the Exile comes across as a very strong and capable character, and I would caution people about taking small excerpts out of context, because they don't tell the whole story.

Anyway, I'd urge people to read the novel with an open mind before they condemn me. Or at least read the latest post on my website to get my side of the story:


For me, considering that Drew's Revan is just too different from my Revan (for one, my Revan was female) and thus breaks the story continuity for me I have little interest in the novel to begin with. Why would I want to read about what I can only consider a perversion of my character?

For the rest he does have a point, but I'm not convinced that it'll make much difference in the end. Those who read the spoilers have pretty much made up their mind already and any writing is only likely to validate it. And knowing the spoilers I'm not convinced that it would've mattered much either way. I know that I'm not happy about what's said to happen with The Exile and having read similar things in other novels without having had them spoiled beforehand I know I'd feel that way either way. But I can't go into that in any more detail without spoiling things myself, so I won't.

Even so, though I might personally wish that Mr Karpyshyn wrote a book other than Revan, leaving Revan and The Exile to the players that played the games they were in, I have enjoyed his books in the past and wish him the best of luck with the release of his new novel.

The final post is a, rather big, post by Georg Zoeller about the Class Design Philosophy. I won't copy the entire post here, you can read it at the link, but I'll give you this excerpt (which is about half the post):

Unlike other games where you pick a class and that defines your role, class in Star Wars: The Old Republic defines your overall story, your possible roles and your visual style / gameplay style (e.g. Force user vs. Tech user).

Due to the nature of the Advanced Class system, every character starts out in a DPS role at the start of the game, and they're about equally good at it.

By the time you reach level 10, you get to make your choice for Advanced Class, which narrows down which roles you could play, and yes, some Advanced Classes (Gunslinger / Sniper / Marauder / Sentinel) only have damage type roles available, while other Advanced Classes have access to two roles (e.g damage or healing).

What actually defines your role in our game, in terms of traditional MMO gaming, is how you distribute points in your skill trees. Specialize in the 'Combat Medic' tree and become a healer, specialize in the 'Vengeance tree' and become a DPS character.

By spending that first skill point at level 10, you start developing your character into whatever role you want them to play in the long term. Since it's your skill choices that define your role, it is a gradual process. You don't become a healer at level 10 or 11, you're growing into becoming a healer over many levels.

Our content is designed around that. The first Flashpoint assumes the group has only DPS roles. Even if you bring a healer, he'll have only a single heal available at that level as he has just begun his journey into his role, so there isn't too much of a spread in balance.

Over time, the game becomes more firm in the roles it requires for content like Flashpoints, but additional tools like companions still make it more flexible than many other MMOs in regards to what group mix can run group content.

That progression is quite different from how your characters work in other games, and we've certainly seen our share of people being surprised by it in testing ("I just took the Sage Advanced Class, but I don't feel like I'm a great healer").

The rest of the post talks a bit about hybrid classes and has a few questions and answers. Overall it isn't new news as all of this has been said before (I don't recall having seen the entire text posted like this before, though that might just be my faulty memory), but I still think that it's good to see it clearly explained like that.

It's funny too. TOR is often accused of being too much like WoW (and I'm not saying that it isn't), and yet people keep tripping over the ways in which it isn't like WoW.

Anyway, that's it for now.

[link] to TOR Eurogamer Expo impressions at Massively.

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